The True Price of Free Wi-Fi

Author James Mash 30.7.2014. | 11:55

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With everyone using phones and connecting to Wi-Fi on the go the supply of free Wi-Fi seems like a good idea but what’s the cost of using this is and how can businesses benefit from offering something for free.

A recent BBC news article looked at one business that was offering free Wi-Fi and how it was being used in a store to benefit the business, it shows what they were getting in return for providing free Wi-Fi and how they were using that to improve their business. Their report reveals how important this area of growth could be and that even if you don’t log on to free Wi-Fi you could still be giving away information.

If you have the Wi-Fi enabled on a mobile device such as your phone then it will constantly be searching for places to connect. In order to do this it broadcasts short bursts of information known as pings; this ping includes the devices unique identification number or MAC address.

Systems can listen to these pings and use them to triangulate the source letting them track the phones movements.

There are some rather useful applications for this and it shows why many malls, airports and supermarkets may offer free Wi-Fi. It allows them to track devices and see how long you spend in different departments, which helps them arrange their stores displays, promotions and so on. This all appears fairly innocuous however the minute you log onto that free Wi-Fi it all changes.

If you connect to the free Wi-Fi at the store shown in this report then log onto your Facebook, Twitter or e-mail account your profile is associated with the stored pings and location information of your phone. This could include age, nationality, photos and so much more.

Purple Wi-Fi the analytic firm behind this is planning on setting up a similar system across the UK city of York. This would obviously be useful to the city council as they could tell where the greatest footfall is across the city and even what sort of people are visiting the city and why.

When the full system goes live next year the deal will be that you get free Wi-Fi but at the expense of you giving up who you are and where you have been. It could have plenty of benefits for the city such as notifying you of parking areas, managing the city’s development, providing targeted marketing and so on, but would you be willing to give away this information so freely? Especially when Purple Wi-Fi could be keeping your movement and other data for up to a year?

Most people will probably not even know they are giving away the information. If you look closely at terms and conditions before logging in its all there, but how many people really read the terms and conditions before signing up for something, honestly, do you?

There is one solution to this if you don’t want to give up your valuable data and you don’t want to be tracked. It’s very easy, you can just disable the Wi-Fi settings on your phone to stop it from looking for Wi-Fi signals, while you can’t benefit from free Wi-Fi in this way you can protect your privacy, and next time before connecting to free Wi-Fi you may want to read the small print.

Author James Mash 30.7.2014. | 11:55
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